The Best Part

Sudden cooler weather and talk of Black Friday deals mean the holiday season is full speed ahead.  Halloween feels like the crest of the roller coaster to me.  Done with the click-click-click of slow autumn progress, cresting the apex, and preparing to carreen through 2 months of holidays, family, and gift lists.

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Kinda sketchy

The downhill is the best part though.  Nobody raises their hands for the slow ride up.  It’s the wild abandoned plunge that elicits the shrieks and hands-in-the-air abandon.  And so goes the holiday season.  My best coping strategy is preparedness: crockpot recipes, lists, calendars, and early shopping.  The two keys to success are the list & the early part.  My tip for the list: add a few ghost runners.  These are in the form of spare, all-purpose gifts on hand for the hostess/coach/neighbor you forgot or who unexpectedly gifts to you.  Hip pocket items that can be called up at a moment’s notice.  It will happen.

My tip for the early part: start now.  The roller coaster downhill is over in a seeming instant.  And the obvious advantage to starting early is ending early.  Early finishers get the good swag at the finish line, in this case spare time.  So here are 3 opportunities this week to get you started:

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  1. Vend Raleigh Sip & Shop.  Thursday 11/9 5:30-9:30pm at the Mayton Inn in downtown Cary.  Cool venue, handmade products from unique local vendors (including us).  Great girls night out to get this shopping party started.
  2. farmers market craft fairArtisan Fall Craft Fair at the NC State Farmer’s Market.  11/10-12th Fri-Sun at the State Farmer’s Market in Raleigh.  Fresh food, crafts, & firewood all in one spot.  Nuff said.  We’ll be there Saturday only, but the event is all 3 days.
  3. wwf2 Winter Wonders Craft Fair at Middle Creek High School.  Saturday 11/11.  I can’t make this one this year because of the conflict with the Farmer’s Market but it’s a fun event with staff and sometimes student craft booths.  I hate to miss it but thought I’d give them a shout out.
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New this year – boxed gift sets!

We will be at a couple more events this season – check our calendar here for more information.  I always post our whereabouts on our Facebook and Instagram pages as well.  This season I’m bringing along the favorites (the must-have fig jam to satisfy any appetizer conundrum) and some new things (cutest beeswax ornaments & guest soap gift boxes!)  As in the past, any $25 purchase gets you the super cute Buck Naked Farm gift bag for FREE.  Wrapped and ready to go, it’s the all purpose gift for anyone that you can customize.  And cross it off the list.  Happy shopping season!  I hope to see you at one of our events, hands in the air or not.

 

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Super cute gift bag in action

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Freezer Burned

Beekeeping requires lots of unusual tools: blowtorches, pinecones, crisco, & deep freezers.  I use 4.  Freezers are an important line of defense.  One of the first things you learn in farming (on any scale) is that anything worth producing has a pest that wants it at least as much as you do.

For bees, pests range from tiny mites to black bears – and all in between.  On the smaller side, there are 2 insect pests who love beeswax comb: wax moths and hive beetles.  Both destroy bees’ precious comb.  Wax moths fly in and lay eggs which hatch and tunnel through the comb creating a spidery webby mess.  Toss that in the burn barrel.  Hive beetles prefer honey.  They lay eggs which hatch into grubs and crawl through honeycomb creating a fermented, slimy gunk of unusable honey.  An abundance of either pest can lead the bee colony to flee the hive completely, regardless of season or resources.  (I can’t really blame them on that one).

 

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Wax Moth damage  photo by Bee Informed Partnership

So as the honeybee colony population in a hive contracts in the fall, there is lots of comb that goes unsupervised.  Good for pests, bad for bees.  Beekeepers try to keep on top of this by removing empty comb to storage.  But the wiley pests tend to follow, having already laid eggs in the beautiful comb!  So to kill any hitchhiking freeloaders, we freeze the empty comb until it is needed again in spring.

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Small hive beetles photo by Omafra.gov

Under assault from both wax moths & beetles, I brought a bunch of full, heavy honey frames to the freezer.  Ahh, safe.  Now some sad little hive can enjoy a pick-me-up with the addition of this donated treasure.  But the other day, I smelled something foul near the freezer.  Kinda like mead, actually worse like bad vinegar.  I opened the freezer, staggered backwards at the smell and discovered that the freezer was off.  And had been off for days.  The old appliance had tripped a GFI and now sat idle.  The fouled frames inside had fermented, leaked, molded, & generally stunk up the place.  HUGE yuck.

(Hive beetle damage is gross.  You don’t actually want to see a photo.  If you do, google it.)

Desolate & generally P.O.’d by the loss of so many precious frames, I yanked the sticky mess out and pitched them into the trash, slamming the can lid soundly to show my frustration.  By daybreak I realized how bad of an idea that was.  “Hey Mom, Dad says every bee you own is outside,” Aaron told me.  Of course they are outside.  I don’t keep hives inside (ok sometimes).  I peeked out the window.   They were definitely outside, outside their hives & in my trashcan.  Those hungry girls had sniffed out the spoiled honey and were trying to salvage what was left.  General avoidance of the area is the best and really only treatment until the bees return home at night.  But by nightfall there was still a gaggle of them scouring the bin for drops of honey to hoard.  Life lesson: Undoing dumb mistakes is infinitely more time consuming than making them.

(I would include a photo of the melee but photos of bee chaos significantly underrepresent the event.)

So it’s 9pm, pitch dark, hoards of confused, half drunk bees.  Kind of like rush week on college campus.  Time to suit up and dumpster dive – par for this course.  And time to check the next box in my quest to rule out every mistake before settling on the right way to do anything.  I pulled out the even-nastier-now frames, shook off the bitter clinging bees, and stashed the frames.  Where?  In my car.  Where else do I store things?  At least until I could haul them off site to be burned.  Cue the curtains to close & plays taps for the faulty freezer.

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Frozen frames safe in a working freezer

So with one less freezer, the kids now have to dig through bee frames to find the ice cream.  (Which doesn’t seem to be slowing them down).  I was able to salvage a few of the frames to other storage and feel they are now safe from attack.  Given the value of the contents,  I’ve learned how important it is to check those freezers regularly.  (A good excuse to, say – inventory the ice cream).  Gotta keep those freezers running, or risk getting freezer burned.

 

Hot Weekend Forecast!

We have a spicy weekend on tap..  Saturday from 1-5 pm we (and the bees) will be buzzing at the CFSA Farm Tour stop on Ninja Cow Farm.  Our bees hang out there every day, but tomorrow we will be there sampling honeys, talking bees, and getting farmy.  Be sure to visit Ninja cow’s amazing country store with awesome local foods, snacks, and root beer.  $30 gets an entire carload of your friends in to as many farms as you can visit.  Don’t have a ticket?  Just go to your first farm and get one on site.  Visit www.Carolina Farm Stewards.org for maps and all the details.  See where good food comes from – it’s closer than you think!

Sunday we will bring the heat to Abundance’s 10th annual Pepperfest in Briar Chapel.  From 3-6pm you can taste local peppery foods from renowned local chefs.  We will be there with the bees and our sassy Chile Infused Honey plus it’s tamer cousins, Vanilla Cinnamon and Lavender infused.  Jalapeño jelly?  Oh Yes ma’m. Fresh from our gardens, sample our zippy blend and all the other Buck Naked goods.  

Get out this weekend for some serious foodie fun no matter which side of town you are on.  Stop by to see us at either event (or both!). We will also have some exciting new products joining us from the Shop at Buck Naked Farm.  Grab something cold and we hope to see you there.

From Perch to Pulpit

I came out to the coop and found this recently.  Heaps of beautiful irridescent feathers and fluff.  The problem was they were in piles, not attached to a chicken.  Normally these feathers were strutting around on the tail of our beloved young rooster Woody.IMG_1160

I bought Woody as an olive egg chick this past spring (to lay olive colored eggs).  I hoped he was a she.  But of the 6 chicks I purchased for olive eggs, 5 turned out to be roosters.  Only 1 was a hen and it turned out the fox liked her as much as I did.  Honestly – olive eggs were not in my future this year.  I was initially very disappointed in the roo:hen ratio but Woody grew into a beautiful, watchful, gentle rooster who respects us, the hens, and Taco.  Taco rules the place.  And Woody is ok with that, for now.  These characteristics are noteworthy in a rooster these days.  We have had our share of testy roosters in the hunt for a few good (chicken) men.  Woody was a welcome surprise.

So finding a pile of Woody feathers was very saddening.  Aaron and I walked around silently picking up the lovely feathers.  The rest of the chickens were keeping close to the coop.  We knew a fox had been here.  Aaron followed the diminishing trail of feathers across the pasture and into the woods in search of answers.  Nothing good.  Disgusted, we headed for the ducks.  The ducks always brighten my day – and it needed some serious brightening.

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In the midst of filling the duck feeder we heard a car pull up.  It was the pastor from across the road.  The farm is directly across from the cutest church ever.  I wasn’t quite in the mood for visiting but it was the pastor.  We exchanged pleasantries and he cut to the chase.  “Are you missing a rooster?”  Aaron and I checked glances.  Yes!! We chimed.  “Does he look like this?” Mr. Danny asked scrolling through his cell phone photos.  YES!!!  “Oh ok.  He’s over at the church.  He was out back for a while but now he’s out front.”  Mr. Danny seemed somewhat casual.  Aaron and I were giddy.  Onto the four wheeler we jumped and sped off.

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Sure enough between the sanctuary and graveyard (aren’t we all) there stood Woody looking alarmed and tail-less.   This was ripe with symbolism.  Catching him would be a challenge in his state of panic.  But we got lucky when he didn’t fit through the handicapped railing spindles and grabbed him securely.

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Across the road and farm we could hear Taco and the other roosters crowing.  Surely Woody had heard them and was trying to find his way home.  We can only imagine that the fox had dropped Woody – by accident or due to fight – and Woody had no-tailed it as far and wide as he could.  It’s worth noting that Woody ended up about a 1/2 mile in the opposite direction from where the feathers led.  A long way home.

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We assumed Woody would be traumatized and retreat to the quiet of the coop.  But he did not.  After our quick first aid care, he grabbed a bite to eat and resumed his post watching over the hens.

Mr. Danny promised to include a message in the Sunday sermon about Woody’s visit.  I think he got a lay up for a sermon topic.  Where do you go when being chased by evil?  When you are scared, lost, hurt, and lonely?  Woody made it clear.  The Lord will lead you home.  Amen buddy.

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Medicine Pantry

I post about honey.  It’s what I do.  But I usually write about eating honey – flavors, recipes, varietals.  But honey is an amazing substance for a lot of other reasons.  I’ve been researching this topic for a new educational display to take to events.  No title yet, but “The Wonders of the Hive” kind of thing.

Here is a short list of products we get from hives beyond honey, plus their properties and uses (there are more!):

  • Honey:  antibacterial, hygroscopic   –  Eating, baking, mead, skin/hair care, wound healing
  • Beeswax: repels water, hardening, purifying – fabric treatment, skin care, wood sealing/furniture, candles
  • Propolis: antiviral, antifungal  – skin tinctures, toothpaste
  • Pollen: vitamin rich – allergy remedies
  • Royal jelly: enzyme and protein rich – skin care
  • Bee venom: anti inflammatory – arthritis, facial treatments
  • Brood: protein rich – delicacy in international markets
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Our humble collection of hive products from last year’s State Fair

There’s nothing in the hive we don’t have a use for!  (Except pesky wax moths – although even those larvae are adored by chicken owners.)  All of these gifts while they are busy pollinating food for us.  I’ll bet some of that list is new sounding, weird even.  I’m not having a bee brood meal any time soon but the range of uses for bee products is pretty amazing.

And it’s not just homestead, folksy remedies.  Modern medicine is using honey to heal in marvelous ways.   I came across this guy’s amazing story on Instagram.  A combat veteran and amputee who is using Medihoney to heal tissue before prostethic use.  [Medihoney is made from manuka honey (produced in Australia)].  In addition to Ryan’s  courageous personal story, the use of our humble bee products wowed me.  Totally underscores our human experience and interdependance on bees.  His commitment and sacrifice for our country’s calling has an interesting parallel to the dedication to task our bees demonstrate.  Thank you for your willingness to give.  (Be sure to check out Ryan’s skilled craftsmanship in handmade wooden flags at his company Old Glory 27 Flag Company.)

Reposted with permission.

Propolis is an underused and curious substance in the hive.  This glue that bees make weatherproofs and sanitizes their living space.  They love to cover things with it, particularly foreign objects in the hive like leaves and mice.
7614446_orig-1080x675 Propolis to glue shut hive lid. Photo by Mcfarline Apiaries

Imagine a combination of toffee and chewing gum that has been warmed into a herculean bonding agent.  It is being used experimentally in topical eczema treatments but has lots more potential.  (One challenge is its hyper-sticky or rock hard state.  Beekeepers curse the cold crack of a propolized hive top upon opening.  Bees frown on sudden loud noises.)

Recently I posted a shot of my first mead making attempt.  Honey is crazy stuff.  What other substance can you use on a biscuit, make wine, heal a cut, and wash your hands?  Totally putting olive oil and coconut oil to shame as superfoods.

I started this research project under the auspices of “the value of honey”.  But it has certainly become much more.  I do believe good research is designed to teach the researcher, not the audience.  I hope to have my new display done for fall events.  I’ll share interesting tidbits along the way.  And now when I cut or burn a finger, I head to the pantry instead of the medicine cabinet.  Ignore me if you see me sucking my thumb.

Honeybee Day Saturday at the Farmers Market!

Tomorrow is Honeybee day at the NC State Farmers Market in Raleigh.  From 9am-3pm come out to see and celebrate our favorite pollinators and there products.  We will be there with our wildflower and sourwood honeys plus all the other hive goodies we make with wax and honey.  Plus, we will have the bees!  Stop by to say hi to some of our girls or search for the queen.  Lots of activities for families and a great reason to visit the market for late summer goods.  Come taste some honey and celebrate the bees!

Home Run

What goes up must come back down – true of the mountains too.  We made our annual run to the NC mountains recently to bring the girls home from their time at summer camp.  This annual pilgrimage is our crazy chase for sourwood honey.  If it sounds crazy, you haven’t tasted the honey.  If you’ve followed us for any amount of time, you know that bee moves always create a story.  Check here and here and even here.

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The holy grail of honey – a gift to our mtn friends

The most epic trip was probably the return journey last year.  Who could forget the harrowing trip down the mountain with the unsecured hives?  Late night trip to Walmart in bee gear?  Ahh, Good times.

This year we had the car packed and ready for days.  After several delays (rainy weather, sick kids) Aaron and I took the first chance we got to hit the road.  We took off so fast that I managed to forget a tiny item – the fume board.  With hives heavy with honey, we needed to remove the stacked honey supers (boxes) to lighten the load.  [See the second hive below?  Those 3 white boxes are honey supers – all honey, no baby bees.  Each weighs about 50lbs. full.]  The fume board is how we politely shoo bees out of the honey supers when we want to remove those boxes.  Trudging around with sticky 50b. boxes is tricky enough without a cloud of confused bees following.  The fume board collects dust until it’s time to pull supers.

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Liquid gold

 

And yeah.  I forgot it.   Enter my newest invention – the fume towel.  A fume board is a glorified lid with felt on the underside to hold a potently scent that the bees avoid.  The metal top lid is heated by the sun, diffusing the cherry/almond scent into the honey supers.  (Kind of like a high school locker room where someone drops an AXE body spray bomb.)  It clears the place in a hurry.  Given no good options, I thought I’d try the Honey Harvester on a towel.  Bingo!  We steadily worked through each hive, driving the bees out of the supers and into the lower hive bodies for the move.

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Boxes above the bottom 2 are designated (by the bees) for honey

We piled all the bee-free honey supers in one stack on the truck to save space and ratchet strapped the remaining hive bodies individually.  Now to wait for nightfall…  (Bear in mind that the bees didn’t know or care when we were coming.  The foragers were out doing their jobs during the day.  So picking up the hives at 3pm means you abandon all those hard working girls who had collected the honey.  Not cool.)  So we wait until night time when everyone has returned to the hive to close the doors and load the hives.

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Super-less and ready to go!

What to do for the next few hours?  Visit Boone.  We hit our favorite touristy spots: The Mast General Store, antique shops, Mellow Mushroom while biding our time.  The only trouble arose when some enterprising local bees discovered the honey motherlode in the back of the truck.  It was easy to pick out our vehicle in the parking lot.  “Oh yeah, excuse me, I need to get into the vehicle shrouded in bees.” You gotta love a town where no one bats an eye at such occurrences.  We had a little parade of bees following us through the downtown streets entertaining the freshman families come for orientation.  But the cloud dropped back as we went down the mountain.

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Words of wisdom from the Mast General Store

We returned to Buck Mountain to grab the hives and head home.  But the gate was down.    and we had no code to get in this time.  I called everyone I knew on the mountain but sure enough, no one was home.  It was getting late.  Aaron, ever helpful,  yells “there’s a 1 in 1,050,000 chance you can guess that code.  It’s impossible!”   He then wandered ahead to see if he could manually trip the gate.  Absentmindedly, I typed in the first 4 numbers that came to mind.  Ding!  The gate beeps and pops open.  Agape, I jump in the truck and floor it through before it closed.  Aaron is left to run after me, just ducking under the guillotine gate.

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Time to buy a lottery ticket

The rest of the trip was like clockwork.  Hives loaded in less than 30 minutes and on the road.  We rolled into Pittsboro around 12:30am and sang the praises of the almost completed farmhouse (now with actual beds).  It was a great trip and a good sourwood season.  The next day, we returned some of the honey supers to the hives for summer food.

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Unloading at home

 

Now I could turn my attention to weightier matters.  At least one hive was struggling desperately with disease and mites.  So it was important to have them home so I could treat and monitor them.  So we will work on getting everyone healthy and ready to prepare for fall.  It’s good to be home.

 

Sweet trip

Our bees go on vacation in summer.  When things are bloomed out in the Triangle area bees turn crabby.  I get it.  Everyone is hot and hungry and mom tells them to go outside.  Sounds a bit like a family vacation without AC. So the unemployed forager bees get cranky, jealous, and more likely to share their venom.  It’s this time of year, that the NC mountains offer a respite.  Slightly cooler temperatures and the allure of sourwood nectar in amounts we just don’t get around here in July.  Mmmm. Sourwood good.  So the bees go off to mountain camp.


Moving hives is a delicate business.  But it ups the ante when the hives are heavy with spring honey and loaded with cranky bees.  Plus I decided to double the number of hives we would transport this year.  We needed horsepower.  We rate the success of the move based on the swear meter.  This year was kind of lackluster at a measly 3-4.  (Past years have tipped the scales at 8-9).  Mostly because I made good on a promise this year.  Spaghetti got the worst of last year’s debacles.  I promised him then that I would rent a truck next time so we could ride bee-free.  (Yes, we used to put the hives inside the car).  Big improvement this year.  

Not only did I feel like a boss driving the truck (which is important) but it kept the help blissfully sting-free.  The diesel power sounded cool and made us feel legit in the hauling business.   Definitely worth the rental fee.  I thought I’d licked our previous problems of closing up the hives with some fancy moving screens.  And they did work beautifully, as long as you remembered to close the doors.  Ahem.  In the midnight madness I missed one door which we didn’t discover until the kind guard bees inside my bee coat reminded me.  Start the swear meter.  We ended up abandoning that one in the middle of the field as hoards of bees came streaming out to chastise us.  And there it sat for a few days until I persuaded Spaghetti to help me move it again.  

Other improvements this year included a bear fence.  Purlear is home to many black bears, some on game cameras last year .  Assuming my luck would run out, I invested in a portable electric system.  Similar to what we use for the ducks, we had it up and going in short order.  The bees were ambivalent but I felt a bit more secure.  We passed out the empty but sticky honey supers to each hive with instructions to please refill them.  Then we headed out.  I miss those girls, and that truck.   

Chatham Pollintor Festival Tomorrow!


Come out to Chatham Mills tomorrow from 9am-1pm for the Pollinator Festival!  You can learn about (and try!) mead, taste different honeys (including our NC Sourwood), watch live bee demonstrations and more. Kids activities, door prizes, and lots of exhibits celebrating our favorite Pollinators.  Check out the wonderful local products at the Chatham Marketplace Grocery Co-op and farmer’s market too. While you are at it, why not stay for lunch at Oakleaf?  Visit Starrlight Mead and take home a bottle from their amazing collection of meads!  


Buck Naked will be there with our bees, Kids activities, honey samples, and more. We hope to see you there!

Getting Schooled

I love learning.  Having a farm seems to require it.  There is always something unexpected happening that requires immediate knowledge in an unexpected domain.  So it is fun to pass on some of our learning.  I spend a lot of time working on my bee education in the form of the NC Master Beekeeper program.  It requires thorough knowledge and mastery of all topics of bee biology, management, processing, & stewardship.  Teaching and outreach is a big part of the requirements.  We’ve done a lot so far this year: helping with senior projects, elementary school projects, local outreach, and newbie mentoring.  Good stuff.

Months back Hana, a Middle Creek High School senior, contacted me about her senior project about honeybees.  I met her mom at a farmer’s market during the year and she followed up).  Hana was interested in what people could do to help the struggling bee population.  She did an impressive amount of research and crafted a thoughtful paper.  But the project required getting your hands dirty, or sticky.  So Hana came over for a visit to the bee yard.  Together we inspected a hive.  Kudos to her for the bravery to jump in for research sake.  I think she even enjoyed it or at least appreciated the monumental work the bees do.  Her project included a slideshow, essay & video.  She gave me permission to post some of it here.  Well done Hana!

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Hana putting on a brave face to visit our bees

A few weeks back I also had the pleasure of helping out an investigative group from Exploris Elementary school.  Ms. Ruto’s 4th/5th grade class selected honeybees for their research & assist project.  One sunny March day, I had the pleasure of hosting them at our bee yard at Ninja Cow Farm in Garner.  They already knew quite a bit from other research but we talked habitat loss and what everyday folks can do to help bees.  In small groups, they tried being a forager bee in a scavenger hunt, made pollinator seed balls, and inspected a hive with me.  A day to remember for me and hopefully them too.

And all the while I’ve started mentoring some new beekeepers.  This is the biggest benefit of bee club membership – finding someone to ask those newbie questions.  There is so much new & unfamiliar that it is helpful to get another opinion when things seem blurry.  I think most beekeepers, regardless of experience, have a mentor.  Someone to bounce ideas off or think through challenges.  I have several I call on.  I got to help a mentee (?) inspect a new hive this spring.  How fun to watch someone building their skills and getting swept away by the fascination of bees!  I got thanked by a big fat sting on the face.  My lip swelled up so much I couldn’t even eat my humble pie.

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Rebecca’s drawing of her duck encounter

We love hosting friends and customers to visit our farm babies & hives.  And having kids take an interest in our business is the best!  There are no greater ambassadors of farming than baby animals.  Chicks and ducks top the list for fluffability.  Getting kids (and adults) interested in sustainable food production is easy when they can see and touch a well cared for animal.  Plus it sneaks in a little science when no one is looking.

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Danica with a spring duckling

We aren’t quite ready to open the farm gates wide for the public.  But we are able to invite more and more folks out to see and experience what we are working on.  For those who can’t make it to us, we have several outreach events coming up.  Pollinator festivals in both Chatham and Wake Counties plus several farmers market events.  And as I continue on my Master Beekeeper path, I’ll be attending conferences & workshops throughout the year like this one.  Everything in an effort to keep learning & growing the farm without getting schooled.